Legislative Update for March 20

Scott Maxwell, legislative liaison for GPHA, provided an update about recent legislative activity concerning public health. The following is Maxwells’ report for March 20, 2015.

Health-related issues have somewhat taken a back seat to transportation funding concerns this year at the Georgia General Assembly. The two may well end up related though, as money taken from the state’s “general fund” for transportation will no longer be available for healthcare needs. The major transportation funding bill, HB 170, currently calls for $250 million from the general fund be directed to transportation (not binding). Another $160 million will be lost from the general fund by switching our current percentage-of-a-dollar sales tax on gasoline to a per-gallon excise tax that must be spent on transportation.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that legislators are willing to allow a bump in the cigarette tax to come riding to the financial rescue. We joined advocates from the Cancer, Heart, Lung and other associations in an effort to convince legislators to utilize a per-pack tax increase of $1.23 to help solve the states financial woes. We owe a tip of the hat to the entire coalition who worked REALLY hard this session. However, the cigarette tax did not get introduced as a stand-alone bill, and it was not made a part of the transportation-funding bill.

There is a tax-reform bill that was introduced this year, but was held out to be worked on over the summer. We have made some headway with the author, Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta). He’s a CPA employed by SunTrust Bank, so John likes numbers . … and he seemed impressed with numbers generated by a cigarette tax. As I have reported previously, there’s a real danger that a small cigarette tax might pass. Studies show that a small bump in price is not effective in keeping teens from starting the habit or others from quitting. We will keep you apprised on any developments.

Both the House and Senate included hold harmless funding in the Appropriations bill to benefit county public health departments that would otherwise lose dollars under the “new” distribution formula. This is actually year five of seven of the formula phase-in.

Click here to download his full report, including the bills on the public health watch list.